I'm of the age where I remember the Golden Age of music. That was the era when all the big hits of Top 40 radio were included on one 33 1/3 rpm vinyl disc from a company called K-Tel. These days, that idea is done with better packaging, better engineering and frankly, a lot better sales. I won't comment on which has the better music. They call the series, Now That's What I Call Music, volume whatever - I think they're up to around volume 18 by now. But today that kind of collection is hip (or cool or whatever "good" is these days). Back in the heyday of K-Tel, well, I was a typical Anti-K Snob. "Oh, that's just the K-tel record," I would sneer in disgust. I would never buy the K-Tel version - unless my parents absolutely wouldn't give me the money for the real record.
The knock against K-Tel Records was that usually they were ordered from television commercials. Nothing made a product seem cheap and worthless like a cheesy tv commercial. These weren't 30 minute infomercials. Usually the spots were no more than two minutes long, mercifully. And perhaps what made the K-Tel Greatest Hits packages seem so lame were their peers from the world of commercial sales pitches. Who could forget the wonders of the Pocket Fisherman, the device which scrambled the egg inside the shell, the Ginsu knives, the Smokeless Ashtray, and, of course the Thighmaster! That stuff was so cheap that it made every other commercial seem cheap too.
But the King of the Useless TV Products was, in my opinion, the Clapper. You remember. "Clap on, clap off." Just clap your hands and the lights go out. That is if you clap your hands just right. The right amount of time between claps. The right cupping of the hands to make the right sound. You almost had to be a virtuoso to work the thing - at least that's what they told me. I never really had one. The closest I came to a clapper was a guy who lived in my dorm in college. He didn't have a clapper. He had a squeaker. It was a little thing that sounded like a weak dog toy, but it accomplished the same thing. The remote light switch. What a joke.
The truth is that most of that stuff advertised on television wasn't worth much. We always laughed at the ads, knowing that they were just trying to peddle junk. Now perhaps that stuff really worked, but I wasn't about to pay $29.99 plus shipping and handling to find out if they were being honest. Honestly it really didn't matter because that stuff had the reputation of being trash. I wasn't going to lower myself to buy a Smokeless Ashtray any more than I was going to invest in K-Tel records. Not even the Top SoftRock Hits of 1976.
I know plenty of people who have the same opinion of churches as I have of any product made by Ronco -- a waste of time that takes your money. Pocket Fisherman. . . Presbyterian -- they almost rhyme! They see absolutely no benefit to being a part of, or even being inside a church. To them, it takes about the same intelligence level to attend a church worship service as it does to order the Inside the Shell Egg Scrambler.
Some anti-church folk call themselves Christian. They may know Scripture and have their own ideas about Jesus, but reject involvement in a church. Why? One guy I know thinks the church stands more for organization and institution than for Jesus Christ. Another thinks that the church has changed Christian doctrine and that he's the only one who has the truth. Still another feels betrayed by the racism she experienced growing up in the midst of "church people." Some of the criticism has merit. Some doesn't.
Others reject the church just as they reject Christ. They call it a crutch or a way of fooling oneself. A sizeable number see the TV preacher/hucksters hawking autographed prayer cloths and it turns them off of any religion. Many just don't want to deal with church, maybe from a bad experience, maybe because they don't want to be told they're doing something wrong.
Now I certainly can't address all the problems and right all the wrongs committed by Christians and by churches. Even if everything could be smoothed over, the church would still be seen as "The Clapper" of the world -- sure it might work for some people, but it's really pretty useless. And that's sad. Sad because these folks lose out on living a true loving relationship. Sad because they miss the incredible experience of corporate worship. Sad because they don't get the opportunity to grow alongside brothers and sisters in Christ. And sad because they equate sinful, fallible humans with our sinless, infallible God.
I believe that a person can be a Christian without attending church. I also believe I could be a millionaire if I had 100,000,000 pennies in my pocket. But I wouldn't want to try to deal with either option. Staying away from a church is rarely anything but selfishness - a refusal to be a part of God's family. If we put God first, we can certainly put up with some of the extra-fallible church people in order to recieve His blessings and to serve Him by ministering through the church.
Maybe we need a set of Ginsu knives to cut through the bad reputation of the church in the minds of so many people. Or maybe we should do our best, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to transparently represent our God and Savior. Maybe we should reach out to those who have been burned by the church or by church people. And maybe we can stand for Christ Jesus instead of standing for the glory of the church and the glory of His people.
How much would you pay for that?